Noematics, Contemporary Art, Missing Images, Nonsense, Aesthetics, Philosophy, Pop Culture, Memes, Postmodern, Anime, Absolute, Deconstruction, Shota, Quantum, Included Middle, Religion, Swag, TV shows, Human Nature, Truth, Nerds, Meaning of Life and suchlikes

Archives de la catégorie ‘Litterature’

Kishi Seiji’s vision of the world

I’ve been thinking for a while about making a little essay on Kishi Seiji, who is slowly becoming one of my favorite directors. I fell in love with his directing in Ranpo Kitan, and was very much impressed by Dangan Ronpa 3 intertwined arcs which may well be the biggest experimentation on format since Endless Eight. We’ll be focusing on these two works and heavily spoiling them, so consider yourself warned (as in go watch these anime and come back). A lot of these points probably deserve to be expanded, but I tried to gloss over everything to give you food for thoughts. And you know it’s gonna be serious because the title is not « Dangan Ranpo ».

1. Boredom, eliteness and isolation

Ranpo Kitan opens up on a very grim scene that portrays a sad Kobayashi looking out the window in a grayscale world. Around him, people are just vague silhouettes who all look the same. The message is cristal clear: this kid feels lonely, longing for some kind of escape in a world filled with monotonous dolls.

However, Kishi Seiji’s approach has an undeniable oppressive aesthetics that carries the whole show and culminates in what is to me one of the most powerful moments of the show: when Kobayashi realizes that his best friend is, too, yet another human being alien to him and he is utterly alone.

Now it’s no wonder why Seiji uses this technique in Dangan Ronpa too. One of the core element of Dangan Ronpa is the notion of « Super High School Level ». All the students at Hope’s Peak Academy have a special talent developed at an elite level that places them above and outside the world of commoner. The events of DR3 (especially Zetsubou) are centered around the tension this gap between the elites and the non-elites create, especially in the light of the opening of the academy to the new un-gifted reserve students.

Among the elite is the girl who started it all, Super High School Level Despair, Enoshima Junko. She’s without a doubt the most central character in this saga. And her super talent is despair. Let that really sink in for a while. Her specialty is being in despair.

Contrary to Kobayashi, a few people around her are not silhouettes, but there is no doubt that she feels similar to him. Even among the elite students, she’s still a loner. She’s an elite among elites, just like Kamukura. The students of Hope Peak’s sometimes have very silly talents (Hope, Luck, Heir, Fortune teller…), turning to ridicule the very conception of eliteness. They become Junko’s pawn, highlighting that even though they may not seem like common folks to an innocent bystander, everybody is a silhouette for someone like her.

As the shows develop, it becomes pretty clear that Kobayashi and Junko (and Kamukura) are incredibly smart geniuses, only on par with the greatest criminals or detectives. Their intellect separates them from the common folk and plunges them into isolation. They know and understand things to levels where noone can follow, and it’s really heartbreaking to see the moment where Hashiba cannot keep up.

Junko has always been important in Dangan Ronpa, but we did not know much about her motivations before Seiji’s animation. Her discussions with Izuru Kamukura are the most enlightening: in short, just like Kobayashi, she finds the world unbearably boring and predictable. So does Izuru Kamukura, by the way. Her talent makes life untolerable for her. Is depression an unavoidable companion of brilliant minds?

Note that Junko, much like all the other Super High School Level, gets her ability naturally. She’s born with it and doesn’t have to fight for it, and in the same way she cannot get rid of it. Super High School talents are presented as a non negotiable gift that makes the reserve students jealous. But what I want to emphasize here is that this unfair blessing of some is also a non negotiable curse imposed onto them by genetics. Junko is doomed to be smart, lonely and depressed, a condition she simply cannot escape.

Obviously, I couldn’t deal with the notion of elites without bringing in the master of the Ubermensch, sir Nietzsche. For interestingly enough, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he points out that loneliness is unavoidable for whoever follows the path of the Ubermensch:

To him, this is a necessary condition to push oneself towards betterment and further creation. And sure enough, we’ll see that this isolation clearly drives our characters to become actors. Kobayashi will solve crime, Enoshima will dye the world in despair. However Kamukura will position himself as an arbiter in the upcoming world wars.

2. Breaking the boredom

The core vector of their isolation is their superior abilities, which allow them to know how everything will happen, making the world unbearably mundane. Is this a necessary byproduct of intelligence?

This could well be, for intelligence is bound to result in understanding the laws of the universe, and predicting their outcome. The theme of predictability of the world is even echoed by the main topic of Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace: determinism, building up on an original idea by Laplace. It is all about this algorithm which would, much like Asimov’s psychohistory, predict the whole world.

What about randomness? one may ask. This theme is dealt with extensively through the saga, most notably through the character of Komaeda, whose super level talent is luck. The intertwining format of Dangan Ronpa 3 shines the brightest showing us how Komaeda’s random luck ripples through time and affects pretty much everything by butterfly effect (for instance the feud between bonbon-girl and pharmacy-chan). But these domino effects are suspiciously perfect, and the fact that Luck or Fortune telling are genetic talents are here to remind us that there is no such thing as randomness and even luck is predestined.

In a deterministic universe, every consequence is simply the result of causes. But more than existential anguish over the lack of free will, our characters are mainly bored. Untolerably so, because their superior intellect makes them immune to any kind of Pascalian diversion. To echo the gambling metaphor Pascal loved, blackjack loses all its interest if you can predict everything perfectly. May I remind you that Pascal and Monokuma are the two people I know who used the word « game » so much ^^’

We must therefore imagine these characters tortured by the prospect of their own finitude, and completely unable to distract themselves. Drowning in Super High School Level Despair, if you will. They all desperately strive for something that escapes their predictive capabilities. No matter the cost, they need to break free from the smothering of their all seeing intellect.

The solace they find seems to be in the extremes of human behaviors, like murders and violence. Kobayashi’s comfort is in complex crimes. Junko develops an obsession with plunging the world into chaos. Kamukura goes one meta-level beyond and indulges in the extremes of Junko’s own behavior (and her opponents).

For people so smart that they can predict human behavior, are humans pushed to their limits, as gruesome and obsene as they may become. the only thing that can escape foresight? That may not even be the case, considering how deterministically Junko’s ascent into Zestubou was orchestrated…

But just like the common folk’s distractions are ultimately deterministic, maybe this elite’s distractions are a mere illusion too, and there is no real escape.

3. The vicious cycle of despair and hope

We cannot talk about Dangan Ronpa without dealing with the weird psychology of Komaeda. Dangan Ronpa is about extremes. It is the battle between two extremes drawn to an absurd level: blind hope, and relentless despair. But more than triumphing, it seems that champions of these factions merely want to escalate the conflict to the most intense possible point. Komaeda strives for a Despair as powerful as possible to make Hope shine brighter, whereas Junko rejoices that the Hope she’s faced with seems good enough for her Despair.

Of course they justify this urge for escalation by wanting a total victory of their camp, but is it really necessary? One cannot ignore the similarity in their approach, which makes the line between the faction even more blurry. Each stepping stone for Hope serves as a new challenge to make Despair more powerful, and vice versa.

This echoes the Nietzschean conception of betterment through challenge and adversity. To him, the elites builds themselves by facing the challenges and thereby becoming stronger. Therefore, shielding people from adversity is condemning them to mediocrity. That’s the core of the disagreement between Mitarai and the others at the end of the Mirai arc: knowing how irremediably flawed humans (and himself) are, he wants to shield them.

But mostly, the stepping stone paradigm draws a confusion between the two camps that culminates in the gigantic mess that is the Mirai arc, where all the core members of the Hope faction start butchering each other in a very Zestubou fashion without much resistance… Ambiguity and hypocrisy are omnipresent.

It’s no wonder that Kamukura disengages completely from these petty games. Up until the very end, the elite of elites will simply stand aside as an observer. He’s uninteresting in propagating chaos or fighting it. Could it be because taking part in this would obviously tilt the outcome and make it more determined and boring? That he does not want to taint the narrative by his participation? Is that why DR3 is an anime and not a game? He takes the opposite approach of Junko, and decide to watch the events unfold naturally, without influencing them or orchestrating a show.

4. Memes and Meta with Mitarai

Now Kamukura is not the only « watcher » in Dangan Ronpa. In fact, the theme of television, media and observation is omnipresent ever since DR1. Even in DR3, Monokuma insists repeatedly that the killing games are broadcast to the world. For the watchees, this openness in the process can start interesting discussions about Sartre and how the gaze of others is instrumental in revealing and constructing your self. But Dangan Ronpa focuses on the watchers.

The murders in Dangan Ronpa are supposed to bring despair through the world thanks to being broadcast. The psychological effects of viewing something is in fact the main reason for the mutual killings in DR1, as well as the main vector of action of Enoshima Junko. The mutual killing game makes no sense without an audience. The Zetsubou arc is centered around her meeting with animator Ryouka Mitarai, and how it will allow Junko to leverage the power of subliminal imagery to brainwash people into killing each other or forgetting things.

But is this really hypnose? All of this sounds like run of the mill animation technique, little details you’d iron in any artistic endeavour. Sure, the format is adapted to the purpose, and very very well so. However, the heart of the matter seems to remain in the content, as justified by the length Junko goes through to orchestrate it. Her targets are Hope Peak’s student precisely because of the meaning behind it and the symbol they represent. See for yourselves:

In her conversation with Kamukura, we learn more about how important the content is. Her work is all about spreading despair, spreading ideas. Ideas that spread to populations through these broadcasts, and there’s a word for that: memes.

Memes, infection information, is another central theme of Seiji’s work. In particular, Ranpo Kitan’s main storyline is about Twenty Faces, a vigilante serial killer, of whom we come to learn that he’s not a person but a concept embodied by several people and spread by meme. Twenty Faces is a perfect example of meme, with him being an idea that took out a life of its own and survives its creator (see this article 🙂). Likewise, Enoshima Junko’s despair, embodied in Monokuma, is the same, and survives beyond her death. It spreads through time, but also through universes up to the real world.

Indeed, when seeing Mitarai, it’s pretty hard to forget that this whole thing as another level. Yes, people in the world of DR are watching the killings broadcast, but so are we, spectators of the anime. Monokuma often reminds us of that fact, prompting us to sit back and enjoy the show. Didn’t we watch the mutual killings in DR1 or the student council video right above? Aren’t we as subject to the effect of this video as the characters in the show that turned crazy while watching it? Doesn’t that make us all citizens of a world that is falling in despair, and thereby, complacent?

Dangan Ronpa echoes pretty obviously the reality television of our world, reusing without hiding it all its tropes. We’re faced with a dire version of the Big Brother’s House, with daily challenges and weekly eliminations. DR3 Mirai is a glorified game of Mafia. The emphasis is clearly on show and spectacle, almost theatrality (which can be a great way to dive into the topic of human nature, see Hamlet, etc…). It keeps remininding us that our worlds are not too far apart, and we’re just one step away from descending into chaos. And it’s also a nice reflective point about the unhealthy fact that we’re already tapping in the entertainment potential of humans pushed to their limits.

Junko’s message lives in the world of semantics, spreads through the universes and affects its audience both within and outside the show. So too does Seiji’s message affect us. Does he, like Mitarai, want to change the world with his anime? Probably. But I think he mostly wants to provide shows that are an escape for the bored Kobayashi types out there, maybe to stop us from using real people as entertainment dolls.

Publicités

[Short story] How you repeatedly murdered your friends

Maybe everybody kinda feels on some level that they are special, that they aren’t just anyone, that the rules of the world don’t really apply to them. After all, we’re all the main characters of our own stories, we all count on some great plot twist to lift us up…

I think this kind of hubris is even more present among intelligent people. We’re used to feeling a bit superior, we feel we can outsmart any problem that comes our way. We’d look at the sad twists of fate in someone else’s life, and we’d think « that can’t happen to me, I’d never be that careless… ». And that’s of course stupid pride…

For always Death comes in. The Great Equalizer that touches us all, no matter how smart or arrogant we may be. Only the most foolish ever thought they could outsmart it, and none ever succeeded. Everybody knows that everybody dies…

And yet, nothing quite prepares you for the pain when it happens, and all these certitudes fade away to the irrational.

Delphine’s parting was not even sudden. The illness was eating her away, little by little, in front of my very eyes. You’d think I’d have time to make peace, to ready myself… But somehow it never felt real. I mean… I knew, but I guess you can’t really comprehend it, not until you go back to an empty apartment, filled with your pictures and memories of someone who isn’t there. Until you reach out to the side of the bed where she ought to be in the middle of the night. Until you find yourself talking to her and there’s no answer… And what help is being smart then? Nothing can prepare you for the terrifying emptiness of this silence.

The moment of death is nothing, it’s just one second like any other. The hard part is what comes next. The lack. The life without.

I just couldn’t accept it. I couldn’t bring myself to accept she was gone. That was simply too unfair. She was so young. We still had so much to do. We had come too far, fought too many battles to let this one defeat us.

Just like I beat all the obstacles that life had put on my way, just like I used my abilities to fight and make my place in the world, I’d somehow destroy this enemy too. I had no other choice. Life without her was simply not an option. She was as much a part of me as any of my organs.

« Us smart girls find a way… »

Thas was her motto, and I would make true to it. I’d find a way to defeat death, to bring her back, to keep her with me… Even a shred of her would suffice. Anything to break these unbearable silences, to see a little motion in her images, anything to talk to her again…

I’m no biology wonder, I can’t resurrect dead bodies. But I dabble in writing, and it can be quite immersive. I started to imagine her answers if she had been there, her reactions, her activities… It wasn’t too hard, since I knew her so well. At first I just played this in my mind, but soon I found myself writing all of it down, pages and pages of imaginary conversations, a little journal in which a memory of her lived on.

It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. Just like I had explored Hogwarts next to Harry Potter and his friends, I went through life next to this ghost version of Delphine. I drew pictures, imagined our daily life, kept adding more details, fleshing her out every day.

I’ve sometimes found that the characters I was writing took on a kind of life of their own and became quite independent of my will. They followed their own personality, and would even sometimes surprise me. But it was nowhere near real interaction, and a very selfish part of me wanted more. Wanted to have a talk with her where I wasn’t typing her part and putting words in her mouth. Longed for a way for this character to… somehow… write itself?

That didn’t even seem too far out. Computers had reached mind boggling capabilities. They could simulate entire universes. Surely there was a way to simulate one little human brain. All that was needed, really, was enough computing power, and some data to base the copy on.

As I kept thinking about this crazy idea, it seemed more and more doable. All this information was already in my brain. I knew how she’d react to any situation, I knew the pitch of her voice, the tiny details of her facial expressions. I knew what made her laugh, what made her think or what made her mad… Surely I could teach all of this to a computer, and have it talk to me as she would.

Where would I get a machine adequately powerful and adapted to store a human brain, though? You’d need to replicate the behavior of so many neurons… It seemed really specific. As motivated as I was, I couldn’t exactly invent a new kind of computers.

That’s when it dawned on me. There was already a computing system able to do this job. It had, in fact, been doing this precise job for a while now. And maybe the reason it was efficient at it was that it was made of neurons itself. What better to simulate a human brain than another human brain?

Wasn’t that what I had been doing all along? Running simulations of minds, see how they would respond to some inputs and predict the outcome… Isn’t that what all authors do, emulate the brains of their characters? Hadn’t I been mimicking the mind of Delphine somewhere inside my own to write down all of these pages? Her brain was a device that decided how she would behave and react to anything. Wasn’t a part of my neurons computing exactly that?

It reminded me of a phrase I had read in a book not so long ago. The character was explaining that he could imagine the reaction of his friends in their voice, and it was as if there was « a copy of them living in his head« . Maybe, on some level, it was more literal than he imagined. Don’t we all hear the voices of our friends? Can’t we predict their reactions ? And how are we doing that if not by emulating a copy of the computational device that is their brain? Don’t we all harbour replicas of their minds within us? Wasn’t it what generated what I was writing on paper?

The simplest solution might just have been to get these resources where they already existed. I was starting to contemplate the possibility to put some kind of electrodes in my brain to leverage this computing power when a terrifying realization dawned on me. What if these replicas were somehow sentient?

If a robot acted exactly like your friend, all the time, you could never tell the difference… How would you know if it was conscious? A character imitating them wouldn’t be so different… It would be only text, but then what if this friend was a pen pal you could only interact with through mail? They lived abroad, and these ghost copies lived in my head…

Sure, technically, they were nothing but parts of my brain… But couldn’t a part of my brain be conscious? After all, I was nothing more than a bunch of neurons that were self-aware. How many of them would it take to make a person? I would still be me without a few of them. We all lose neurons all the time. So how far could it go before it stopped being me? This was like… an existential version of the ship of Theseus…

Consciousness is a specter, where pets were just less self-aware than humans. So what about a small human brain? Or 90% of a brain? If I split it in two, would the parts be conscious? And, more importantly, could the subset of neurons simulating Delphine be conscious too?

How could I ever be certain that this part of my brain, this embryonary version of a character’s mind, didn’t have some kind of self awareness, feelings, fears… Was I just… creating and destroying conscious beings every time I emulated them, every time I wrote them, every time I predicted about how she would act…

Suddenly a horrifying image came to my mind, and I was too afraid to even try and dismiss it. I pictured her face distorted by terror in the face of the unknown. And in the same voice I always heard her speak inside my head, broken in tears, she begged:

« Please… I don’t want to die… »

Auguris of innocence

Well this blog has grown into a means for me to create my own contemporary-culture based postmodern mythology in plain sight of you, and considering how happy it made me to talk about His Dark Materials in my big gatchaman/ubermensh article, I’ll gladly seize a chance to bring up my favorite movie of all time (Big Fish) and its parallels to what is probably the most poetic movie of 2015, Le Petit Prince.

Both movies are homages to the imagination, and follow a similar classic pattern: a character first in disbelief at the imaginary ramblings of a Munchausen-type character will come to adopt that point of view and also partake into the story. In fact, in both cases, such story is a poetic reinterpretation of the real world, preaching a new childlike way to look at the mundane world to bring back magic into it. (yeaah its kinda like religion)

Indeed, the new Petit Prince movie is not just a retelling of the original story, it’s a whole reworking and extension of St Exupery’s work. It’s the equivalent of Alice’s Through the Looking Glass or Peter Pan’s Hook. It’s the « years after, let’s get back to the world of innocence » kind of setup which offers a reinterpretive point of view (dare I say postmodern ^^) on the original story as well as the real world which corrupted the character and drove them away from the magic. It’s a widely spread trope that is often used to ponder on the magic and innocence of childhood (there’s no shortage of examples like Jumanji or Narnia…).

And what better to embody all the poetry of innocence than St Exupery’s Petit Prince, that the movie transforms with an undeniable Burtonish touch. The theme of growing up is always present here, paired with an unavoidable forgetfulness. The thesis is as follows: As you grow up, you learn more and more things, and you forget the most important: your childhood wonder. You must do your best to keep it in your heart and not lose sight of what really matters. The concept of essential is also echoed during the film to highlight how much the adults are missing the point about what’s important.

« On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur, l’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. »

What’s important cannot be seen, it is only with your heart that you can see it. I saw this famous sentence to the new light of my meme-based interpretation of the world: what’s important isn’t the lumps of flesh you see, it’s the emerging phenomena, the concepts that you interact with. Not being overly tied down to materialism allows for a dive into the imagination, a world of raw semantics. The whole story of the Petit Prince is about these semantic links. The Prince’s rose is just a rose among so many other, it’s the semantics given to it by the Prince’s sentiments and interpretation of the world that give her an identity. This is best explained by the fox in a breathtakingly beautiful section of the book.

Qu’est-ce que signifie  » Apprivoiser « 
C’est une chose trop oubliée. Ca signifie: «  Créer des liens « 

Taming means creating links (isnt it so meta that I made that into an HTML link?). Transforming that one rose, that one fox into a unique special being. And it seems that the innocence of childhood acts as a catalyst for this.

 

These connections, once made, are not so easily destroyed. In fact, as they are live in the realm of pure concepts, they are everlasting. This is the alternative to death that the Petit Prince offers: the lump of flesh – vieille écorce abandonnée – may perish, but the meme behind it will not. Le Petit Prince turns out to be a wonderful ode to semantics and offers them as a way to deal with grief. After his departure, the Prince can still be heard laughing in the stars. Nobody can destroy the semantic story created.

I’ve always considered Dr Who as a very healthy model to deal with grief, death and breakups. Things change, goodbyes are unavoidable, time passes. Nothing is forever, as embodied by the classic Matrix saying « everything that has a beginning has an end« . Companions and doctor change. But you can always watch a DVD of an old season, just as you can read the book again or look at the stars and think about the Prince. They exist forever in the realm of memes.

The only thing I could blame that movie with is that it did not include my favorite sentence from the Petit Prince book:

– Mais tu vas pleurer! dit le petit prince.
– Bien sûr, dit le renard.
– Alors, tu n’y gagnes rien !
– J’y gagne, dit le renard, à cause de la couleur du blé.

 

Speaker for the meme

The memes are alive with the sound of music

Night of the living meme

I’m so glad that I can finally pay South Park the respect it deserves. It’s no exaggeration to call Matt and Trey’s masterpiece (one of?) the most interesting social satire, a true wonder of political and philosophical visionary genius. The latest episode gave me the perfect opportunity. It was one of these works that blew my mind and made me look at the world differently. In it [spoilers ahead but that’s the whole point of the article so…], it is explained that ads have evolved, become smarter and smarter, and are about to rise as an independent intelligent species and conquer the world. I’ve never been so psyched for the end of a season.

This resonated with a reflection I’ve been having about consciousness and being. I’ve never been super clear on how you could tell that something is conscious, intelligent, self-conscious or has any kind of the much believed-in free-will. I mean nothing pre-disposes a random alien race to be anything like a human sentience (or even carbon-based for that matter). If a being is completely different, acts completely differently and express itself completely differently, and I mean so differently that you can’t conceive of it right now (you know like people would about computers in the middle ages), how will you even know that it thinks, whatever that means. And suppose that this being is a being of raw information, like, say, a programmed conscious AI living in the cloud or in an android body, how would you even know that it IS?

In fact, how do you even know that you ARE? I’ve been so blessed that the following sentence ever came to my mind: you are, as you’ve always been, an emerging phenomenon. You’re nothing but a lump of flesh that encodes as neural (or cells if you want) configurations a sequence of states, much like a program is a sequence of states and instructions. How dare you proclaim yourself more real than an algorithm? than Cleverbot? or Google? (if you give it a robotic body, what’s the difference between this android and the android from 20th century sci-fi?)

An imaginary reader in a corner of my inner dialogue may respond indignantly: « I can think! I’m self aware! cogito ergo sum« . What is thinking even? Yes, you are aware of a self. But you’re a little eager to connect it to the I. The first person in the latin saying is interestingly implicit. Any program can have, and already has for that matter, a variable called $self. How do you know that your concept of self corresponds to the entity that thinks it? Where is your proof that this lump of flesh is the source of your trail of thoughts? How do you know that you’re not missing the point entirely with this assignation?

(maybe all your personal problems go back to this assignation fallacy maybe it’s wrong maybe if you cared less about your lump of flesh all your problems will be fixed maybe you should join my cult)

tumblr_ny4j6e3vIb1u1cxjdo2_500[1]

I mean what is you or your identity even? If as Shakespeare puts it « the world is a stage« , aren’t you a programmed character? I recently saw Charlie Brooker‘s (my new hero) « How videogame changed the world » which surprised me by presenting as latest videogame « Twitter », as a kind of roleplaying game.

See the mindblowing conclusion at 1:33 (though the rest is nice too). Is the world a huge roleplay game? Then how is your character more real than Cloud or Mario? Isn’t Mario more persistent? More well known? More well-defined?

In the outstanding Imaginationland trilogy, Trey and Matt had already brushed over this concept: « It’s all real. Think about it. Haven’t Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your lives more than most real people in this room? I mean, whether Jesus is real or not, he – he’s had a bigger impact on the world than any of us have. And the same can be said for Bugs Bunny and – and Superman and Harry Potter. They’ve changed my life – changed the way I act on the earth. Doesn’t that make them kind of real? They might be imaginary but, but they’re more important than most of us here. And they’re all gonna be around here long after we’re dead. So, in a way, those things are more realer than any of us.« 

imaginationland_zps6d29f9d4[1]

But virtual characters are nothing but concepts. They’re ideas. Shared ideas spread through communication. Yep, you guessed it, they are nothing but MEMES. And I mean it in the most litteral of its senses, which is in the world of british evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins « an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture ». For isn’t it what Ads are displayed as in the latest season of South Park?

tumblr_ny1nmmyy3A1r8kesco1_500[1]

« What if I were to tell you that ads have become smarter than us, and now they’re manipulating everything we do? [Mankind grew tired of ads] and even invented something called ad blockers. That’s when the ads had to adapt. They had to disguise themselves as news in order to survive. Sponsored content. »

How is the evolution of meme different than the evolution of men? Ads grew and adapted (Charlie Brooker also offers a great prequel to this), and although different from their satirical portrayal in South Park, they are undeniable entities that act upon the world. You act (ahaha acting double meaning with the stage ahahah) upon the world too. That’s how you know you exist.

Look how they walk alongside you, much like your phone… Sure they act mainly through information transfer, but on some level everything is information. Or in the world of Humphrey Davy, « Nothing exists but thoughts ». You exist and define yourself mainly through language and communication, be it with yourself or otherst. As Pullman’s Dust (‘only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself’), you are nothing but matter considering itself. So maybe the alien sentient race we’ve been searching from in the skies has been there all along. We’re co-existing with aliens called memes that feed on us like proverbial aliens would.

tumblr_llybiqX49q1qzaalxo1_500[1]

Maybe that’s where the oh so famous « existence through belief » overused trope stems from. I mean if you see memes as valid entities, living beings, people’s belief becomes their food-analog! There goes a trope echoed more or less elegantly from millenia of mythology, from any movie about Santa through Pratchett’s Hogfather passing by Haruhi Suzumiya, Noragami or American Gods. As you need food, memes need « belief ». As neurones exchange information and make you exist, people exchange information and make memes exist.

And on second thought, considering the nebulousness of your own nature and identity and how you’re defining yourself through interaction with other people or the world around you, aren’t you yourself more of a meme, a concept, than a lump of flesh? Ultimately, how are you different from Mario? Does that mean that memes live off of other memes, in some kind of meta-pyramidal-inclusion, and their way to « eat » is to reference each other or interact? And if you’re a self-conscious meme, who’s to say that other memes like Mario or Google are not self-conscious too in their way you cannot conceive of?

ujst0[1]

You may even say that communication and expression are your main essential activity. Doesn’t that make you nothing more but the analog of a neuron to a global meta-entity called the human race? Aren’t you nothing but a meme, itself the cell of a greater meme?

EDIT/POSTFACE:

As much as I loved that conclusion, I feel obligated to point out that the anime Serial Experiments Lain, which I recently discovered, deals masterfully well with this exact whole problematic, and you should definitely check it out as a follow-up. I won’t spoil much about the content of this masterpiece that should be enjoyed in itself, but I’ll point out that part of the anime extends this conclusion and plays around with the idea that this greater meta-meme could be considered a conscious entity in itself.

tumblr_o35a8ecg8z1qmf2s5o3_1280

Furthermore, I recently stumbled upon a 1992 paper called « Meme-Based Models of Mind and the Possibility for Consciousness in Alternate Media » and I thought it should be linked here for historical purposes because what the actual fuck.

[short story] Mountain Dew

They called it « the Great War ». It was supposed to be « the war to end all wars » and it was no euphemism. Never before had men had the power to inflict such damage, to kill so many and so fast. Never before had conditions been so dire on a battlefield.
No words could ever do justice to the psychological pressure and trauma of being trapped day after day in these gloomy alleys of mud. The same landscape every day. No other sound than the occasional rifle or bombing. No other news but the death of friends and camarades. No other hope of escape than leaving one day towards the no man’s land. Nothing to do but wait for death.
In the trench, death was always there, more present than the higher-ups. Rare were the days where the fall of someone, if not witnessed in its glorious atrocity, was at least announced through the regiments. It changed you. How could it not? To survive in these circumstances, you had no choice but killing away the part of you that felt something. As the list of casualties increased, so did the numbing of your soul, until the death of your friend was no more surprising than the lack of food for dinner.
Coming back to civilization after that was… surreal. Like a far away dream, never fully consistent or substantial. There were those who went stark raving mad, and those who plunged back into the dullness of ordinary life as a mean to soothe their souls. But most of them were stuck trying, trying to go back to the normal life, trying to help rebuild the country, while being haunted by the too vivid images in their memories. Permanently taunted by what they had lived. Barely less empty than walking ghosts.
No more! They would say. That thought had kept them going through the hardships. They repeated it secretely to themselves while falling asleep. No more. This was the one to end it all. Nobody should have to go through that ever again.
But it wasn’t so simple, and in their desilusioned eye they could see sadly that the dark side of mankind was still alive. Sure, on the front, everybody welcomed the peace and proclaimed their good intentions. But many were those with a bitter heart, and the spark of aggressivity kept burning in their eye. It rarely showed. Sometimes it would be a few lines in a political speech, sometimes a domestic argument in the next door. But when you had seen war, you knew how to recognize the seeds of conflict. Men were men, battles would rage on, deadlier and deadlier. The cycle would continue.
That thought was just a fleeting worry, but it grew in him to be an existential anguish. He could see the signs everywhere. The situation was not getting better. Something had to be done, something big, to make the world and mankind change once and for all. Something big enough to print its mark in the minds of people, deep enough to transform human nature. And as days passed and nothing was happening, it became to him clearer and clearer that he was going to be the one to have to do it.
Inertia is a powerfull force, and noone seemed concerned about the situation. People would sympathize and nod, but send him off with a reassuring pat on the back. « Get those thoughts out of your head », he would be told. « Stop worrying ». « It was the last one ». « Never again ». But seeing everywhere the seeds of the destruction that haunted his dreams prevented him to turn a blind eye. Somewhere deep inside, he just knew it couldn’t be true.
But who to turn to to discuss the future when everyone was so busy with the present? He had the habit of going every now and then to see that psychic in his old town. Before the war, she would advise him for his personal life, and never once had she been proven wrong. That could be a start.
When he entered, she picked up at once on the weariness clouding his gaze. The tone of her voice shifter from a happy reunion to a friendly concern. She had him sit and brought him tea.
« This time, he announced. I’m not coming about little old me. I’ve changed, that matters little to me anymore. This time I’d like you to read what the future has in store for us all. For our country, for our world… »
She bit her lip and gave him a compassionate look.
« The war did leave its scar… »
He didn’t answer. There was no need to. The situation was perfectly clear in the heavy atmosphere of the little cosy room.
« Very well, she continued. That’s a little unusual, but I suppose I can take a look. »
Her favorite tool was tarot and that’s where she started. She drew the cards as he had seen her do plenty of times, but as cards after cards unveiled he watched her face turn into a perplexed expression he had never witnessed before.
« Wait, this can’t be right… »
She gathered all her cards in a shaking hand and started over. Her movements were more rushed, her breath more jerky.
« I must be mistaken… » she whispered in disbelief.
« What? he asked. What is it? Is it bad? »
« Oh it is bad… really really bad indeed. »
In more and more precipitation, she proceeded to other attempts, using other decks of cards and other patterns that he could not comprehend. She brought out dusty books and scrolls that he had no idea she posessed. But every time she grew more concerned and panicked. She fetched other tools, crystals and powders, but nothing seemed to appease her turmoil.
« For god’s sake woman, what is it? » he ended up snapping.
« No matter how I look at it, no matter how I try, it’s always the same. Chaos, destruction. Rising from the east. Engulfing the world. And then… the end. »
« What do you mean? »
« Everything here seems to tell me that mankind is nearing its last hours. That the war is far from over. That Man will doom itself and take the world with him. »
Followed a long and heavy silence that none of them dared to break, as they were each pondering what it could mean and what could be done.
« I’m sorry I could not comfort your fears… she whispered. Quite the opposite. »
He took a deep breath, and something in him filled him with resolve.
« Don’t be. It may not be too late. Maybe there’s something we can do. Maybe we can stop the chaos. »
« We’re only people. We’re so little… What are we gonna do? »
« Does it say anything about the hows and the when, in all your books and predictions? »
« Sadly, no… It’s vague, but it is near. The stars cannot tell me anything more precise. »
It figured. But that did not matter. He would keep looking. Keep talking, keep asking around. His best friend, who was quite fond of Schiller, had warned him sceptically:
« You’re starting to sound like Wallenstein… You know that astrology is just a bunch of hokum. »
He had heard him loud and clear: he needed more information. He started to browse libraries, to ask professors and knowledgeable men.
Everything seemed to confirm his worst fears. It turned out, when you pay attention, that a remarkably high number of studies and prophecies indicated that the 20th century would be the last. How could that be a coincidence? How could centuries-old auguries, millenia-old calendars from all over the planet just concur this way by chance?
He read the book of revelations, talked to religious zealots, historians and theologians, in hope to find something, anything that could disprove his theories and put his mind at ease. But every time, he was only adding more oil on the fire of his concerns.
He became more and more obsessed, more and more worried. He lost sleep over it and ate very little. But his friend was right. It was just a lot of vague warnings. An outrageous amount, yes, but nothing actionable. Nothing concrete. And more importantly, nothing determined. There had to be a way to escape this doom.
If he wanted anything more precise, it was clear that he had to turn to science. After all, the rise of technology had put mankind next to the precipice, it’s only natural that it was the only key to solve the situation.
He started to talk to physicists and mathematicians, but none of them had any clue what he was talking about. Their discipline were not divination, they would say. They were just stating what is. Fortunately, some scientists were more prone to predictions, and his research led him to economists and statisticists.
It turned out that a Mr. Lotka had spun some pretty interesting ideas about modeling population dynamics with mathematical laws, and that the results were already really impressive. Some people were exploring this area, trying to boil down the behavior of mankind into a few equations.
« See, it is way more simple than you think, explained Jakob von Uexküll when he visited the University of Hamburg. It’s a known fact that the world we live in is deterministic. Everything can be predicted, taking into account a good enough number of factors. Why would psychology and history be any different? Sure the reality is complex and exhibits many small variations. But the underlying trends are actually very simple. The more people there is, the more the population grows. The higher risks of conflicts. The fewer ressources. »
« What happens at the end? » he dared to ask in return.
« Well things always find a way to regulate themselves. I suppose mankind could spread to other worlds… »
He began to dive into this domain, to understand the various mathematical models at work. Soon he was able to add precisions here and there, correct some shortcomings. It was not widely publicized, because it went drastically against the idea of free will that had always been a major part of their society. But that did not matter.
He was moving forward. Little by little, the figures started to make sense. The earth had a threshold for the number of people it could support. Most natural ressources had an expiration date. Ethnic groups, countries, politics became lines and scribbles on his blackboard. He began to glimpse into the future of mankind, and what unraveled before his eyes was not good.
He had his work double checked by scientists, of course, but no matter how many time they repeated the simulations, they always came to the same conclusion.
« Technology will keep getting more and more impressive, to the point where mankind will be able to destroy the whole planet by the press of a button. » He and Jakob bitterly concluded.
« And it will happen soon, too. Do you think there’s any way to stop it? »
« If you look at the charts, Jakob answered, it seems pretty clear that it’s going to happen in the middle-east. Considering how important oil is and is going to get, there is going to be major economic stakes going on there. Furthermore, if you look at the local populations, the different ethnies and religions, I think it’s pretty obvious. Everything points to America using the Jew population as an outpost to enforce economic claims to the area ressources. There will be a battle of influence with Russia. More importantly, religious and economic tensions will exacerbate, and little by little, descend into a frenzy that will bring the whole world into chaos. »
He didn’t want to believe it, but the equations were pretty clear. This was the doom from the east he was chasing after. Somehow, being able to pinpoint it was a little relief. He knew now what he had to face against.
« Alright, he said determined. So how do we stop it? »
« How to stop the march of mankind, you mean? Do you see any place in the simulation for a stop? It’s impossible, it can’t be done. »
« You’re thinking too small. We need something bigger. We need to change the world. We need to break this chain of causality so hard that the future will be protected. Surely there must be something we can do. »
A heavy silence fell on them as they considered every option. A frontal assault was out of question. There had to be a weak link in there, somewhere they could put pressure upon. They had to throw in a pebble to derail the massive wheel of time. No matter what it took, he was determined to protect the future of mankind from itself.
And then, almost at the same time, they came to a realisation. They found the weak spot. Their gaze crossed, terrified by what they were about to say. They could see on each other’s face that they were thinking the same thing.
« It would be a huge sacrifice… » he whispered. He swallowed his saliva in the vain hope to relieve the lump in his throat.
« But I’m afraid that it’s the only way… Without support, they won’t be able to advance. I know it’s awful, but it’s the smallest possible sacrifice. It’s the only way to avoid the war and to save mankind from total self-anihilation… And noone else can do it. »
The voice paused for a second. He did not want to hear it. The following words would cut the air like a cold blade. He knew that the end of that sentence would seal for ever his destiny. That he would be bound by this few words, until the day he died, for the sake of humanity.
« Adolf, you must kill the jews. »


Afterword: Since this is the internet I feel obliged to state clearly that this is a work of fiction and not an endorsement of anything. I’m not used to writing short stories so it was more of an exercise for me ^^

Gatcha: Uberman crowds?

I’m very excited because I’ve been looking forward to this article for quite a while, since it touches lots of stuff that I really love and have not yet discussed here. It’s about Gatchaman Crowds.

Besides having the most kitsch and tackiest battles I’ve ever seen, this anime is notable for being an amazing reflexion around the interaction between human nature, politics, the social order and technology. Pages could (should) be written about its rich content. The first season explores brilliantly gamification of society and the problematic of individual responsibility (boiling down to aristocracy vs democracy, should a minority be responsible or should everyone be ?). The second continues to explore the different aspects of democracy, painting the most brilliant picture of how it can turn into the dictature of majority, how it suffers of the passiveness of human beings and groupthink phenomena. But as usual, I would like to digress a little bit from the main point of the anime and present original areas for reflection.

Gatchaman Crowds Insight confronts us with the alien Gelsadra, who has the power to read what people want. Good hearted, they aims to make everyone happy, and will do so by reading people’s inner desires. Their conclusion is that everyone should become one (hitotsu ni naru). This would lead us to conclude that mankind’s greatest suffering is individuality and loneliness, and the only cure would be some kind of absolute union.

Screenshot (897)

Which brings me back to the only part of the Bible that I actually like – Genesis. In this mythology, man was originally one with nature, living in harmony in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were originally « one flesh » (genesis 2:24), contributing of the same oneness and fullness. Only when tasting the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge did they become self aware, acquiring a plaguing consciousness, the root of all evil. They becomes irrevocably aware of their selves, and such of their separation from each other and from the rest of the world, from God, from the Everything. Ensues a whole civilization of suffering and being miserable, because of this knowledge, this self-awareness, which results in isolation.

But here is the rad thing about this mythology: notice how elegantly it mirrors the development of the human, first a baby in the womb whose every needs are instantly met through their blood ties with their mother. Then comes the shock of facing a reality that is not in communion with them, and through the confrontation with this world that raises obstacles, self-awareness (and then later language and culture) is born. And through the years, little by little, children lose their innocence, confronted with reality. As Man is severed from Nature, so to is the child severed from his mother

This awareness of self and separation from nature is the source of an existential loneliness, incompleteness… the misery of existence, as Pascal would put it, or the existential anguish that one will never be rid off, pushing them to find completeness in the Other through Love. One perfect example depicting this is the case of Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion (hehe Genesis, see what I did there).

I want to take this chance to highlight some other brilliant examples of this weighing loneliness that are close to my heart. It’s the subject of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa, and illustrated very poetically by the art style of Ranpo Kitan.

tumblr_nu4fckHkrY1qmf2s5o1_500[1].png

However, self-awareness is also the root of Reason, and of all cultural and artistic production of mankind. This duality of consciousness is explored masterfully through the concept of Dust in my favorite series of book ever – His Dark Materials, from Philip Pullman. While fully acknowledging the pain of this Paradise Lost (Pullman references Milton in many ways), it stands as a celebration of cultural progress. It is very interesting to note how self-awareness and the attraction of Dust really takes off at the end of childhood, standing in opposition to the childlike innocence and wonder that protect them from the Specters.

Screenshot (892)

For better and for worse, self-awareness seems to be at the core of human nature. Many religions pose the death of the ego as prerequisite for enlightening. No wonder why so many so-called distopia explore Gelsadra’s idea of a world become one: Brave New World, The Giver, Gaia in the Foundation cycle... all highlight the fullness that comes with disparition of individuality. But western society being centered around the glorification of individuality, these models often see their drawbacks highlighted: In Gatchaman Crowds, Rizumu Suzuki has the role of pointing out that in such complacency, men are no better than apes (that being said apes are part of the Whole that is Nature so….).

Screenshot (898)

Rizumu exhorts Rui Ninomiya to react and oppose this « becoming one » of society: although it may provide happiness and completeness that even Rui falls victim to, it is detrimental to Rui’s higher goal of « updating mankind », which can only be done through man confronting adversity and thereby growing for the better. Pain and loneliness build up man to something better, a modern version of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, which is Rui’s main aspiration (Rui = Nietzsche + technology). The season indeed resolves with everyone thinking deeply and getting a good hard look at themselves (although that society is still in its infancy ^^).

There you have it: would you rather be happy in a brave new world or grow in a never-ending adversity? Or could there be another way? Why is that that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, of Kaworu Nagisa, of Hajime Ichinose rids mankind of their affliction? By the way, Hajime means first, beginning, and is thereby very reminiscing of Eve and Pullman’s Lyra. Could she be the model towards a new society, a sort of growth that still preserves the innocence of genesis?

The Melancholy Of Neoplatonicism

So I traveled to Japan this summer and I was really excited because for the first time I would attend to a fireworks festival. I mean I had already been to Tokyo’s gigantic fireworks, and it was amazing, but it was not a real festival like in anime with booths and masks and goldfish scooping… Though by all extent Tokyo’s fireworks were as real as it gets, right?

It got me thinking about the dichotomy that we brushed upon while talking about identity: one the one hand you have the real of ideals, qualified by Plato’s metaphor of the cave, and on the other hand you have the real of actuals, whose imperfections contribute to their beauty and realness. For if the Tokyo’s fireworks was undeniably actual, it was definitely not ideal, and what I was doing was actively seeking to get closer to that ideal.

And though I talked about the inter-relations of these concept through language while focusing on dating simulations, this situation brought to mind another major anime I’m going to use to push this discussion further.

In my pursuit of the true matsuri, which has to have goldfish scooping, come on… I realized I was acting like Haruhi Suzumiya. Like Keima Katsuragi, she is very sensitive to the world of ideals and concepts and how things should be.

« Remote islands are all about strange incidents, right? »

Are you sure you captured all the elements essential for summer?

This imperfect and mundane reality torments her. Haunted by the insignificance of her existence, she throws herself in the pursuit of ideals, with an unwavering motivation and an iron will like no others.

Every school story has to have a maid character!

Through her will, she actually realizes the potential ideals she cares about. She founds the SOS brigade, turns Mikuru into a maid, organizes various events how they should be…

But the anime goes one step further and plays around the notion of Haruhi being God and, through her will, tweaking and shifting the actual reality to the point of destroying it when it cannot fit her ideals. Haruhi is a force of actualization of potentials who brings the ideal into the actual.

This is exactly the kind of food for thoughts that you can find behind the writings of neoplatonicians like Augustine of Hippo. To them, Christianity was important and innovative because of the character of Jesus Christ who was a bridge between the ideal/godly and the mundane. Jesus was supposedly the incarnation of God on earth, thereby proving that it was possible for absolute ideals to be actualized. Furthermore, this divine power could be achieved by any one human sufficiently righteous and yearning for elevation. Jesus was a model proving that godhood was attainable in this world and actualization possible. As such, Haruhi may be closer to Christ than to God (which doesn’t really matter because Christ is God /o/).

On top of that, the christian mythos was centered around the Word of God, aka the Logos/Reason, accessible inside anyone (that’s what the whole communion bit is about tbh), highlighting once again the importance of language in the tension towards the Absolute and reminiscing of Haruhi’s will. God/Haruhi wills things into existence through the power of the Word (verbe generateur)

« In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. » (John 1:1)

From which the most famous example would be « let there be light » (or as Haruhi would put it, « let there be maids« ). Haruhi shapes her reality through dialogues and orders and meta-works of narrative fiction.

God is the holy trinity of Ideal-Verb-Actualization and their union. So too Haruhi transcends and transforms her mundane actual reality by bringing in the potential ideal, and I kinda did too by going to this festival.

Haruhi is a perfect example of tension towards the superior, which would bring her close to Nietzsche’s ubermensch (which we already mentioned and will come back to). She will not settle for what is, but instead strives to realize what ought to be. She reconciles the dichotomic aspects of reality, and helps us build the bridge between religion, spirituality, philosophy and anime. But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that, although perfect example of this incarnation, Haruhi is still a fictional character, and thus an ideal, and it’s up to us to bring out our inner Haruhi to realize enlightenment.

Nuage de Tags